When I reviewed mobile games during the platform's heyday, Simogo's titles stood out in the endless, winding parade of apps that entered and exited my iPhone. I was charmed by their earliest titles Kosmo Spin and Bumpy Road, then found myself fascinated a few years later by the one-of-a-kind puzzle-adventure game Device 6.
Mobile's indie gaming scene slowed down after Apple's updates to its iOS started causing developers expensive problems, and some great studios were caught in the suction. Simogo, however, is going wild on the Nintendo Switch. The Swedish developer is crafting motorbike gang war dance-offs for Sayonara Wild Hearts, an action-rhythm game that reminds me why I love titles like Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven series.
Simogo's main site for Sayonara Wild Hearts describes the experience as "an euphoric music video dream about being awesome, riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords, and breaking hearts at 200 mph." Having gone hands-on with the demo at PAX West, I can confidently say Sayonara Wild Hearts serves up what's printed on the label.
In my demo, a woman who recently had her heart broken follows a butterfly that flits into her room. (Always a great idea.) She promptly finds herself recruited on a psychedelic mission to restore order to the universe by chasing down members of biker gangs and literally punching their hearts into pieces. And that is the way to deal with a messy breakup when you're too lactose intolerant to handle an ice cream binge.
Though Sayonara Wild Hearts' demo reminds me of the Rhythm Heaven series, the two have nothing in common at a glance. Rhythm Heaven's action is broken up into a series of single-screen missions and stages, whereas Sayonara Wild Hearts' surreal roads and wilderness zip by at dizzying speeds. Rhythm Heaven uses bright, well-defined character sprites that are sparsely animated; Sayonara Wild Hearts' character models glide at 60 fps.
I talked about Sayonara Wild Hearts' inspirations with Jeff Legaspi of Annapurna Interactive's publishing team. Legaspi says Rhythm Heaven isn't really part of Sayonara Wild Hearts' creative equation, as the former is very structured and the latter never stops moving, flowing, and dancing. "[Simogo] wanted to do something that's music-inspired, but not necessarily rhythm or beat matching like in other music-related games," he says. "[Simogo] wants the music to drive the game, and then vice-versa."
Nevertheless, Sayonara Wild Hearts still reminds me of Rhythm Heaven, but in the best way possible. Both use custom music and action prompts to push along narratives that are bizarre and irresistible. Even Sayonara Wild Hearts' wordless tutorial serves a story purpose, as it's the bridge that transforms you from a sad mortal to the dashing and mysterious bike-riding hero whose costume echoes The Fool arcana found in tarot.
The constant movement in Sayonara Wild Hearts resembles an endless runner, albeit one that refuses to keep you on a straight path. You weave around objects while collecting lines of hearts that multiply your score while simultaneously showing you which paths are safe to drive on. When action prompts pop up on the screen, it's an invitation to keep up the flow and remain part of this great, musical serpent that never stops winding, leaping, and striking.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is one of those games that you don't "get into" so much as you surrender your senses to it. Again, if you're a fan of Rhythm Heaven, you should already be familiar with the euphoric sensation of letting rhythm and music plant itself in your brain and commandeer all your senses. It's one of the best feelings in the world, and you can experience it again when Sayonara Wild Hearts comes to the Nintendo Switch later this year.